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Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems
Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems
by Billy Collins
Edition: Hardcover
120 used & new from $0.01

26 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It gets better, December 5, 2001
I am a voracious reader of contemporary poetry, but I have never previously been interested in Collins's work, which has seemed to me more or less insignifant. I read this book after he became Poet Laureate, and although I don't hate it, it's not exactly earth-shattering either. I suppose that's the point: Collins wants to be charming and minor, and he's both to a tee. His best poems riff on some well-known idea (like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin) and then kind of get distracted by an image. By associative logic, the poems veer off their own path -- which is often pretty well-trodden -- and into more mysterious and interesting territory. This often works as a technique, although it gets predictable. And Collins is funny, which is a big plus. I tended not to mind that he didn't really have much significant to say. This is poetry as beach reading.
One thing about Collins's technique: you can see Collins's ear getting better in the later books. The first 50 pages or so are just unmelodious, ugly even, and I don't think it's really purposeful. In the later books he gets more comfortable with his breezy sentences and takes more chances with the line. It's not like he's ever a poet of much risk, but the phrasing is (usually) not dull or flat in the later books.


Annals of the Former World
Annals of the Former World
by John McPhee
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.15
92 used & new from $2.50

220 of 231 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary writing on a difficult and complex subject, June 5, 2001
Although I'm giving this book five stars, I have some reservations.
As is well known, ANNALS collects four earlier books -- Basin and Range, In Suspect Terrain, Rising From the Plains, and Assembling California -- and adds a fifth section, "Crossing the Craton." All the books show McPhee crossing America along and near Interstate 80 on various trips with geologists. Each book focuses on a different section of I-80 and a different geologist. Together, they are supposed to constitute a more or less complete picture of contemporary geology.
Among current science writers, McPhee has no peer as a stylist. Geology is an incredibly difficult subject to convey in popular terms, and McPhee is often masterful. Numerous passages -- especially in Rising from the Plains and Assembling California --are remarkable. Academic geologists are thankful to him for popularizing their subject, and they should be.
But as a total picture of a science (or of the Earth), I'm not sure ANNALS completely works. Here are my objections.
1. In Suspect Terrain is the weak book of the four. By focusing on a geologist (Anita Harris) whose idiosyncratic views are made overly significant, McPhee confuses the total picture. In the book, Harris questions plate tectonics and repeatedly refers to the "plate-tectonics boys." McPhee subtly allows the fact that Harris is a woman to add legitimacy to her complaint, when that has nothing to do with the objection and in fact some early (and late) plate tectonics contributions were made by women, and not by "boys."
2. The road-trip conceit that shapes the book also limits it. It limits the book to land (generally) and the continental United States (specifically). Occasionally we make detours to Hawai'i, Switzerland, Indonesia, or Greece, but the idea seems to be that North American geology illustrates the whole world, not the other way round.
3. The road-trip conceit also privileges field geology over other kinds of geology (such as geophysical modelling). Even the geophysicists in the book, like Moores in Assembling California, are portrayed with a rugged, outdoorsy pedigree. Like oldsters pissed off about rock and roll, these geologists (Moores excepted) envision modelling as part of the corruption of youth. Obviously the image of the rock-mad field geologist scrambling up a roadcut with a hammer is more attractive, in popular science terms, than the geophysicist at the desk worrying over the parameters of her computer model. But McPhee sometimes allows his romantic presentation of the field geologist to affect his judgement.
4. Because the book was conceived and written over quite a long time, its picture of geology subtly changes without always indicating that it is doing so. Each moment is a snapshot of a discipline, and usually an excellent one -- but the story of how the total discipline came together is sometimes hard to grasp. There are moments when it happens: the story of hot spot theory in Rising from the Plains, for example. But there are two narratives -- one of McPhee's travels at the moment, one of the whole of geology -- that do not completely overlap. (McPhee's new front matter, including his alternate table of contents, make it possible to get such a total picture -- but you would have to do that _very_ deliberately, and probably on a second reading.)
All that said, I must insist that this book is a pleasure to read. I repeatedly got lost, in the good sense, in reading it. Sentence by sentence, it is the best book of popular science in recent memory. While I agree with some other reviewers that more pictures would have been nice, it's one of McPhee's strengths that he is confident that his writing will convey what he wants. That confidence raises the stakes for him as a writer, and he is usually able to meet the challenge he has set.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 29, 2011 12:52 PM PST


Armenian Papers: Poems l954-l984 (Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets)
Armenian Papers: Poems l954-l984 (Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets)
by Harry Mathews
Edition: Paperback
12 used & new from $5.22

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the great poets of experimental form, November 29, 2000
This book is best described by "Trial Impressions," a 30-part poem which dominates the middle of the book. The first part of the poem reprints, verbatim, a short piece by the English poet John Dowland. The rest of the poems in the sequence rewrite this poem, each in a different way: as sestina, as Mallarmean sonnet, as contemporary plea ("Up to Date"), as an Oulipo "N+7" exercise (using two different dictionaries), as a detective riddle, as a palindrome, as Chinese imagism ("The Wang Way."), etc. The closest precedent to this amazing poem is Raymond Queneau's "Exercises in Style," another Oulipean tour de force. The poem is funny, touching, and maddening. There are other great works in the book, including the title piece (a very interesting faux "translation" of a nonexsistent prose precedent). And there is also "Histoire," perhaps the funniest sestina in the English language. This is a seduction narrative in which the repeated end-words are "Feminism," "Fascism," "Militarism," Marxism-Leninism," "Sexism," and "Racism." It's amazing to read this sestina and watch such words get drained of their meaning yet strangely re-energized.


Fire and Rescue [VHS]
Fire and Rescue [VHS]
VHS
Offered by If The Lord Will
Price: $7.95
31 used & new from $0.16

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My preschooler old loves this, July 26, 2000
This review is from: Fire and Rescue [VHS] (VHS Tape)
_Fire and Rescue_ is the third video in this series that my son has watched. Like many boys his age, he's interested in trucks, construction, and the like; and so we purchased _House Construction Ahead_ and _Road Construction Ahead_, both of which he loves. But _Fire and Rescue_ is his favorite. The video follows Mike, a New England firefighter, around on his daily tasks. There is a firehouse with an old-fashioned pole, and lots of fires, and even Dalmations! Fred Levine, the director of the series, knows exactly what kids want in a workplace documentary: action and image, language that kids can understand, likeable characters, and no "filler" tape loops.


Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism
Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism
by Robert T. Pennock
Edition: Hardcover
64 used & new from $0.01

13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book, August 22, 1999
First: The customer who calls himself J. Russell, with his references to explicitly and implicitly racist and hate literature, seems to be trolling.
Second: This is a superb book. I agree with others who have critiqued the linguistics, but I don't think Pennock is trying to be exact. The weaknesses in the language chapter arise from the fact that he's moving back and forth between a critique of biblical literalism (usually identified with Young Earth Creationism) and a critique of neocreationism (Intelligent Design). His real target is the seemingly more flexible ID camp, and for them he's using the parallel to show that the categories of negative argumentation against evolution (i.e., it's not repeatable, the God of the Gaps story, etc.) don't hold. In this area -- debunking not just the specific arguments of creationists but their characteristic modes of arguing -- Pennock's contribution is extremely important, and as far as I know the first of its kind.


Apollyon: The Destroyer Is Unleashed (Left Behind #5)
Apollyon: The Destroyer Is Unleashed (Left Behind #5)
by Jerry B. Jenkins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.28
687 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Better than Soul Harvest, but still tepid, July 29, 1999
The best part of this book was the locusts. They were pretty interesting, creepy, and kind of frightening in a sci-fi way. But the characters were weakly developed and shallow throughout, and the various chase-scenes were poorly done and not believable. Everything was written like a movie script, not a novel; this is a "novelization" in advance.
Hattie confuses me, and the scenes with her various friends were not well developed. Minor characters popped in and out without much reason.
As usual, the plot breaks from time to time for a little witnessing or the inevitable biblical proof-text (where everything is taken literally and where good interpreters know exactly how to interpret prophecy -- how convenient).
SPOILER ALERT: I GIVE AWAY SOME PLOT BELOW, SO DON'T READ ON IF YOU WANT TO BE KEPT IN SUSPENSE
The worst part of it was the treatment of Amanda, who was under suspicion in <i>Soul Harvest</i>. What's the matter with the authors? I think it's cheap to redeem her character after she's been implicated. It panders to the sentimental wishes of the audience. It's as though they could not keep with the story they had developed in the previous episode


Soul Harvest: The World Takes Sides (Left Behind, Book 4)
Soul Harvest: The World Takes Sides (Left Behind, Book 4)
by Jerry B. Jenkins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.98
412 used & new from $0.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The worst written of the series, July 29, 1999
This book starts off with a long scene about Rayford's uniform and the cost of its accoutrements which is among the worst pieces of writing I have ever encountered in fiction. And it went on for PAGES. From there it picks up a bit but keeps falling back into the kind of writing that would not make it through an undergraduate workshop. Some reviewers have complained that the books are becoming too character-driven. I don't mind that, except that the characters themselves are so shallow. The first rule of good writing -- show don't tell -- is violated on almost every page of this tedious book.
I enjoyed Left Behind and have read the others as they were published out of curiosity. No big deal, it only takes a few hours to read each. But the writing, which was never really good, has become the worst sort of hack work.


The Hellbox (The Oxford Poets)
The Hellbox (The Oxford Poets)
by Greg Delanty
Edition: Paperback
28 used & new from $0.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Suberb book by young Irish poet, July 26, 1999
I didn't like Greg Delanty's earlier poetry much: he seemed too easy, sort of cheaply graceful, like some other young Irish poets who I won't name here. But this book, which consists almost entirely of poems arising out of his association with the printer's trade, is a radical departure and an amazing move. The title poem alone, a long, hubristic, rambling piece of American-influenced verse, is worth the book's modest price. A really terrific achievement by a writer I had dismissed.


Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers In Exile
Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers In Exile
by John Shelby Spong
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.93
308 used & new from $0.01

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A work of courage and power, May 27, 1999
One of the earlier reviews called this book "gutless." I could not think of a less appropriate word.
Some conservative Christians would excommunicate Spong for this book alone, but I for one have found him to be speaking my language. I was "born again" at 16 and remained a fundamentalist for 8 years after that experience. Moving away from that, I did not go to church for some time, and I questioned whether I was a Christian at all. A few years ago, I began to rediscover the faith in a mainline denomination I once ridiculed.
Having come through the exile to a renewed faith, I found Spong to articulate my own doubt, fears, and struggles beautifully. His chapter on "Jesus as Rescuer-- An Image that Has to Go" has got to be one of the boldest, most startling re-envisionings of Christian tradition I have ever read (and I have read Calvin's Insitutes, Luther's The Bondage of the Will, and other great texts of the reformation). To be a Christian without being a theist -- it sounds heretical, but a lot of us are in that position. It's startling to hear it from a bishop, since we laity usually expect leaders to be more assured (read: conservative) than ourselves.
I only wish this book had been longer and more fully footnoted. Then it would be more able to withstand the assaults of outraged fundamentalists.


Belief and Resistance: Dynamics of Contemporary Intellectual Controversy
Belief and Resistance: Dynamics of Contemporary Intellectual Controversy
by Barbara Herrnstein Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: $35.00
48 used & new from $0.71

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Careful exploration of relativism and its consequences, May 27, 1999
The previous (hostile) reviewer noted that this was his "first and last" reading in postmodernism.
It shows.
In fact, his objections to Belief and Resistance are entirely anticipated in the book itself.
In this book, Herrnstein Smith extends the arguments in her earlier _Contingencies of Value_, showing how belief patterns can be sustained and effective without reference to "objective" truth. It _does_ take a certain patience to get used to her style, which here, even more than in her earlier books, is qualified sometimes nearly to the point of disappearing. But in fact, the particular idiom she has developed is a consequence of her intellectual journey, and the book is a serious defence of a serious philosophical position.
Another potential problem is the "occasional" nature of some of the pieces. Unlike her earlier works, Belief and Resistance collects pieces originally written for various forums, and often in response to critiques of her earlier formulations. Because of this, the opening and closing chapters (especially the material on Habermas) seem not to fit fully with the central argument. But that argument, particularly in the title chapter and the chapter entitled "Doing without Meaning," is presented brilliantly and (despite the wilful misunderstanding of the earlier reviewer) clearly.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 21, 2015 2:58 PM PDT


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